Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the review said previous research found there was not enough evidence to suggest prebiotic supplemented formula resulted in a “relevant clinical benefit”. However they added there was some evidence for its beneficial effects for gut microbiota, metabolic activity, stool consistency and frequency and the development of some immune markers.
“Because most studies suggest a trend of beneficial effects and because these ingredients are very safe, prebiotics bring infant formula one step closer to the golden standard of breast milk,” the researchers wrote.
Last July the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) adopted its opinion on the essential composition of infant and follow-on formulae. At the time industry group Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) said it was disappointed that certain ingredients like non-digestible oligosaccharides, probiotics and synbiotics had been deemed "unnecessary" by EFSA.
In this latest review, the researchers noted that “scientific societies” did not recommend the addition of prebiotic oligosaccharides or probiotics to standard infant formula.
The researchers emphasised that adverse effects were “extremely seldom”.
Prebiotic oligosaccharides were the third most prevalent component in breast milk but they were very low in cow’s milk.
Weighing up results
One area the review focused on was the impact of prebiotic formula on the infant’s stool.
Past research suggested infants given prebiotic formula experienced softer stools more similar to the consistency reported in breastfed infants compared to infants who received standard formula without prebiotics.
Referencing a paper from 2007, the researchers said prebiotic inulin and oligofructose “clearly” modulated immunological processes at the level of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, meaning in infant formula this may hold “significant health benefits”.
They said further research was needed on the possible use of prebiotics for the prevention of allergies in formula-fed infants.
The research was conducted by the Pediatric Department of the Russian Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education and the Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, VUB).
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Vol. 113, Iss. 09, pp 1339-1344, doi:10.1017/S0007114515000823
“Oligosaccharides in infant formula: more evidence to validate the role of prebiotics”
Authors: Y. Vandenplas, I. Zakharova and Y. Dmitrieva